Curtain Call: Playwright Horton Foote’s Legacy Lives On

After racing to get <em>The Trip To Bountiful</em> to Broadway, Foote’s daughter Hallie brings the show to L.A.

Rarely does anything move quickly on Broadway. It can take years for a show to find the money, talent, and venue to mount a production. But it only took Hallie Foote—daughter of Academy Award-, Emmy Award-, and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Horton Foote (Tender Mercies, To Kill a Mockingbird)—seven months to bring The Trip To Bountiful to Broadway starring Cicely Tyson. The show, which was nominated for four Tony Awards, opens this week at the Ahmanson Theatre.

“I always thought Bountiful should be done again,” says Foote, whose father passed away in 2009. “We had a wonderful production of it with Lois Smith at Signature Theatre [in New York] but it didn’t work out. Cut to a few years later. I was contacted by director Timothy Douglas who wanted to do it regionally as an African-American piece. No one had ever approached me [about that]. That would have interested my father. I saw it and liked it. I thought it could work on Broadway, but we’d have to take it to the next level. Could we get Cicely Tyson?”

Through a mutual acquaintance, Foote found herself sitting opposite the legendary actress of such films as Sounder and The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. “She told me this story about seeing the film [version of Bountiful] because she so loved Geraldine [Page, who won an Oscar for her performance]. She said to her agent, go get me my Trip to Bountiful. She’s telling me this story and it almost wasn’t sinking in. Miss T said she wanted to [get on Broadway] in the spring and we had to make it happen. It was make or break time. It just happened like that.”

In The Trip to Bountiful Tyson plays Carrie Watts, a woman who dreams of making one final visit home to Bountiful, Texas so she can escape the clamor of Houston where she lives with her overprotective son (Blair Underwood) and his wife (Vanessa Williams). Not only did the show recoup its investment, Tyson’s performance as Watts earned her a 2013 Tony Award.

“I look at her in this role and I see her inhabit it,” Foote says. “I think she’s so wonderful in the part. I watched her meticulously interview people in Wharton, Texas, where my dad is from, about their lives in the ‘50s and what is was like growing up in that part of the country. We took her out to a place called Glen Flora, which is probably about where Bountiful was. She just shook her hands and felt that dirt and got a sense of the land. She likes to be connected.”

For Foote, keeping her father’s work on stage is very important. “What’s particularly gratifying to me is it’s now going to be done in Japan. We just had a production in Uruguay. The woman who played Mother Watson said they got fabulous reviews and they are loving it there. I’m starting to see that [my father] is having an appeal all over the world. The themes are universal. Everyone has a mother, a father. They have hardships to deal with. They have joys and they have sorrows. I think you sort of forget about Texas. It’s there, but it takes a back seat to everything else that’s happening on stage.”

Are there other Horton Foote works the world hasn’t seen? “They’ve all been done somewhere, but most people wouldn’t know. They would be world premieres if we did them in New York,” says Foote. Will they be produced anytime soon? Foote says no. “Certain people are still alive. He never writes dead on about a person, it’s often a compilation. And I just know my father—he wouldn’t want it done until they were no longer around.”